This week's golden spotlight will be a bit different. Rather than highlighting one play, I have posted gifs of every Cal screen pass during during the game.
The thing that struck me about Cal's offense while watching the game was that it seemed to be a return to simple, system driven offense. They ran power, used quick motion out of the backfield for various reasons (setting up screens, the quick game, and drop back passing), and they threw a ton of screens.
These screens were unique, creative, and systematic in themselves. Of note, almost all of them had multiple options on the same play - most often in the form of double screens to either side of the field. This is option football in the passing game, and Cal executed extremely well.
An inauspicious start to the screen game, but it displays the double screen. The pass goes (incomplete) to Khalfani Muhammad, but note the linemen releasing to the opposite side to block for the wide receiver screen.
The double screen again, and well defended by Oregon State. The first two double screens did not look good for Cal. But Tony Franklin is a confident play caller, and it shows. The Cal screen game would be prolific for the remainder of the game.
Tre Watson picks up a nice gain on what looks like a simple swing screen, but, again, note the linemen releasing to the opposite side of the field.
One of the highlights of the season. Note that this is a variation of the screens we have already seen. In this case, the running back (Watson) does not swing. He sprints to a spot (the same approximate spot where the receivers would catch the ball on their rocket screen, making it a more automatic throw for Jared Goff) and turns around. Three linemen release to block for him. There is no double screen, but this is still a packaged play; we can see both receivers to the bottom of the screen running quick outs while Darius Powe crosses and sits in the short middle. The deception is extreme because it is real - unlike a typical "fake," Goff could throw to any of four targets (and perhaps a fifth - it is unclear as to whether Maurice Harris's vertical route to the top of the screen is a legitimate option - I suspect it is, if Goff sees it open early). Notice that the three offensive linemen who release to block the screen do not move downfield until late; they are far from getting three yards downfield (immaterial in this case because the ball was caught behind the line of scrimmage) if Goff were to have thrown a downfield pass. One can call this a screen pass with the option to throw downfield, but, to me, this is a downfield pass with 3/5 of the line running a screen as a form of pass protection. In a way, Franklin is protecting Goff with the option to throw the screen; if Oregon state rushes hard, the screen should be open (as it was here); if they don't rush hard, Goff is protected for a quick release. The execution is difficult, but when it is pulled off like this, it looks much more like an evolution of offensive football than a typical screen pass.
The rest is a sensational, patient, explosive run by Watson and great hustle and blocking by linemen and receivers downfield (of course Jordan Rigsbee's block was the most impactful, but the wide receiver hustle on the play was exceptional as well).
Another variation of the double screen, this time with linemen releasing to both sides. A very nice play featuring a very mean KO by Raymond Hudson.
Another double screen, this time featuring a great catch and moves by Maurice Harris on his way to the end zone.
A more traditional single option, play action throwback screen. More great execution by the offense, and impressive moves by Harris.
After an incredible run of execution and production in their screen game, Cal comes back to earth here. Note that if Kanawai Noa caught the ball in stride, he had plenty of room to run.
Another solid double screen play to cap off an incredible screen day from the Cal offense.
As a Cal fan, I was encouraged to see the offense find its best rhythm of the season after what could have been a confidence ruining stretch of losses. From the outside looking it, it appeared that Cal came in with a smaller package of plays than they did against their stronger opponents. There can be a tendency to rely more on schematics to beat stronger teams, which seemed to be the case during some of Cal's recent offensive struggles. A veteran squad can also tempt a coaching staff to continue to add plays and concepts. In my view, however, Cal is best when relying on a smaller package of plays and the increased execution that comes with it. If Cal is to beat Stanford and finally take down an elite team under Sonny Dykes, offensive execution will be the key.
Keegan Dresow spent four seasons as the head coach of the Avedøre Monarchs of the Danish American Football Federation, is the author of Offensive Football Systems and Gridiron Cup, 1982, and is the operator of totalamericanfootball.com.